Foreign Policy

Ultra-Hawk John Bolton Fired From Trump Administration

He got the boot before managing to start any new wars.


National Security Advisor John Bolton is out. President Donald Trump tweeted today that the stridently interventionist Bolton was asked to resign this morning over continued policy differences with the president and other members of his administration.

"I disagreed strongly with many of his suggestions, as did others in the Administration, and therefore I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service," the president declared in a tweet. Trump said a new national security advisor would be named next week.

The public nature of his White House departure seems to have come as a surprise to Bolton. The outgoing national security advisor tweeted that he had offered his resignation last night but was told by Trump that they'd discuss it today.

Trump's mention of differences between Bolton and "others in his administration" appears to be a reference to the conflict between Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo has been overseeing peace negotiations with the Taliban as a prelude to a U.S. drawdown of troops in Afghanistan.

According to reporting from The Washington Post, Bolton had opposed these talks, preferring a unilateral, partial withdrawal of U.S. forces.

This was not the first disagreement between the ultra-hawkish Bolton and the occasionally more intervention-skeptic Trump. Time and again, Bolton has appeared to undermine the president's efforts to scale back U.S. interventions abroad.

In April 2018, for example, Bolton seemingly attempted to sabotage his boss's peace overtures to North Korea by suggesting that the U.S. would pursue the "Libyan model" of disarming the country. (The U.S. helped to overthrow Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi after he had agreed to give up his country's nuclear program.)

Bolton also helped to stall a U.S. exit from Syria. In December 2018, Trump announced that the U.S. would be withdrawing military forces from the country, only to have Bolton condition that withdrawal on a Turkish agreement to not attack Kurdish forces in Syria.

To be sure, Trump himself has been—at best—an erratic and fair weather dove. He suggests troop withdrawals one day and then makes bellicose threats the next.

Trump has certainly needed no encouragement to take a hostile line on Iran. Nevertheless, Bolton clearly helped to raise tensions with that country during his time in the White House. In May, for instance, Bolton made a very public show of dispatching an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf in order to send Iran "a clear and unmistakable message" of U.S. resolve.

Bolton's departure from the White House is being greeted with a collective sigh of relief from non-interventionists everywhere.

It's unlikely that Bolton will disappear from the scene completely. Having been unceremoniously let go from the Trump administration, he may well become a professional Trump critic on cable news.

Still, the fact that Bolton will no longer have a direct role in setting U.S. foreign policy is a huge win for those who think the U.S. should be fighting fewer wars.